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Apocalypse Nowish: How Movies, TV Think the World Will End

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Dec 20, 2012 | 1:29pm EST

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Every end of the world movie ever

Human existence, life on earth: the one thing that we hold as a universal truth. People populate this planet, and we live on it, now and forever, right? But what happens when the unexpected happens? We're talking, of course, about the end of days, armageddon, the apocalypse. How the world will cease to exist—it's a terrifying thought that has been depicted in movies and popular culture seemingly since the beginning of the movie industry.

But not all end of the world scenarios are created equally. And they hardly have a universal premise. All ends of the world are not created equally. But by taking a look at how the world ends/ended/will end/is ending/could end in television and film, one may get a better understanding of how the human mind processes such an unbelievable event. Such a large-scale tragedy would have to be huge. It could start off small: pollution, a single mutated gene creating a virus. Or it could be huge: angry gods, meteor attacks, or even aliens. When it comes to creating fear and anxiety in your viewing audience, look no further than putting the earth's proverbial life on the line. It doesn't get bigger than that.

So we've compiled a list of every film (yes, we do mean every) film and TV show wherein their main plot revolves around the saving of, escape from, or rebuilding of the earth. That's all your pre-, post-, and ongoing apocalyptic schemes. Turns out? There's a lot of them!* And a lot of interesting patterns and ideas to discuss.

So click forward and begun your journey! Let's take a look at the end-of-the-world options we have to face tomorrow, eh? Movies always tell the truth AND the future, right?

First Up? The Beginning, of course!

* Please note that some films have dates attached. This is because they were either made several times throughout history, or were remade or rebooted in some way.

Every end of the world movie ever

Between the beginning of the film industry and the 50s, films rarely dealt with the thought of a world in peril, and when they did, it seems to have gone one of two ways: either via a natural disaster or comet ...or women. Don't look at me like that, I'm just the messenger! It's true, though: the films of this early era often focused on either a disease (masculitis or male-itis depending on the film), or a robot woman. Ladies be ruining everything!

By the time the 50s rolled around, iconic films like The War of the Worlds and Invasion of the Body Snatchers brought the idea of an alien takeover into the fold, causing terror about the great beyond. The 50s is also when the idea of a nuclear fallout come into play, likely due to The Cold War. Tensions between the US and Russia were high, and it seems likely that the very real terror of a possible nuclear war, or atomic bomb, seemed a very real possibility for the end of days.

The 60s only strengthened the 50s trend trend of atomic and nuclear fallout, with nearly all 13 of the films created in that 10 year span focusing on atomic bombs, mass warfare, and nuclear explosions. But it wasn't all Dr. Strangelove, as 1968 brought us our first instance of the now-staple-scenario of a zombie apocalypse in Night of the Living Dead. Overall, though, the world's end was still just a minor player in the movie landscape. Though some films worked within the idea of social commentary through a world-ending scenario (i.e. The Time Machine), most kept it straight and to-the-point: there was fear in the world, and these films planned to capitalize on that.

1900 - 1949

Deluge - NATURAL DISASTERS

The End of the World (1916) – COMET CAUSES NATURAL DISASTERS

End of the World - COMET

It’s Great to Be Alive (1933) – MASCULITIS/WOMEN TAKE OVER THE WORLD

The Last Man on Earth (1924) – MALE-ITIS/WOMEN TAKE OVER THE WORLD

Metropolis - A ROBOT WOMAN/LUST

1950 - 1959

The Day the Earth Stood Still - ALIENS

The Day the Sky Exploded – METEOR

Day the World Ended – ATOMIC WARFARE, MONSTERS

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) – ALIENS

On the Beach - NUCLEAR FALLOUT

The War of the Worlds (1953) – ALIENS

When Worlds Collide – WORLD EXPLODES

The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1959) – ATOMIC POISON

1960 - 1969

The Bed-Sitting Room – NUCLEAR HOLOCAUST

Crack in the World - ATOMIC BOMB

The Day the Earth Caught Fire - NUCLEAR BOMBS

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb – NUCLEAR BOMB/WORLD EXPLODES

Fail-Safe (1964) – NUCLEAR WAR/A COLD WAR

In the Year 2889 - NUCLEAR WAR

The Last Man on Earth (1964) – PLAGUE/VAMPIRES

The Last War – ATOMIC BOMB

Night of the Living Dead (1968) – ZOMBIES

Panic in Year Zero! – WORLD WAR

Planet of the Apes - APE TAKEOVER

The Time Machine - THE DEATH OF INTELLIGENCE

The War Game - NUCLEAR WAR

Next up? The 70s and beyond...

mad max

The 1970s saw the end of the world/apocalypse film really take off, with nearly double the number of movies made in the 1970s as compared to the 1960s. It's an interesting shift, and one that doesn't necessarily follow a pattern or theme: movies from the 70s where the world ends/ended/is ending, have a veritable smorgasbord of reasoning behind them. For some, it's an ape takeover—Planet of the Apes premiered just a few years prior in 1968. Others? It's nuclear war, aliens, zombies, or even the antichrist.

One of the interesting developments is that of the environmentally-based breakdown of planet Earth: famine, the Greenhouse Effect, a second Ice Age, and human over-consumption of our natural resources all come into play. Finally, the end of the world is rooted into an oh-so-logical place, perhaps making for all the more of a terrifying viewing experience. Either that, or all the hippie talk of the time was finally getting to movie producers.

1970 - 1979

A Boy and His Dog – NUCLEAR WAR

Alien – ALIENS

The Andromeda Strain - EXTRATERRESTRIAL VIRAL WARFARE

Battle for the Planet of the Apes - APE/HUMAN WARFARE

Beneath the Planet of the Apes – WORLD EXPLODES

Beware! The Blob – THE BLOB

Black Moon - CIVIL WAR BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN

Colossus: The Forbin Project - A SUPERCOMPUTER

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes - APE TAKEOVER

Damnation Alley – DOOMSDAY via NUCLEAR MISSLES

Dawn of the Dead - ZOMBIES

Escape from the Planet of the Apes – NUCLEAR WARFARE

Holocaust 2000 – ANTICHRIST/NUCLEAR WEAPONS

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) – ALIENS

The Last Days of Man on Earth (The Final Programme) - EUGENICS

Logan's Run - COMPUTERS

Mad Max – DYSTOPIAN SOCIETAL BREAKDOWN

The Noah – NUCLEAR HOLOCAUST

No Blade of Grass – GLOBAL FAMINE

Omega Man – BIOLOGICAL WARFARE

Quintet – SECOND ICE AGE

Silent Running – TOTAL ENVIRONMENTAL EXTINCTION

Soylent Green - GREENHOUSE EFFECT/HUMAN CONSUMPTION

The Ultimate Warrior – INFECTIOUS DISEASE PANDEMIC

Zardoz - EUGENICS

Next Up? The totally tubular 1980s...

escape from new york

The world ended a whole bunch in the 1980s, and the fever pitch of world relations played a huge role in how the world ended in film. It is with 1980's The Apple that we see religion take its turn as the bringer of the end of days: the rapture is here! And while the oft-discussed return of main dude Jesus Christ makes its debut in the 1980s, the overall idea of a religious wave of death doesn't take center stage in films much after that. Surprising especially once we get to present-day, when it seems every year there is a new date for the end of days and the second coming, to bring all the good souls to heaven.

In the meantime, war is a widely-used scenario for how the world ends in films in the 80s: whether it be nuclear war, World War II, general warfare, a war of the sexes, biological warfare, or just plan old weaponized weather, humans were getting greedy, immoral, and angry—and it was causing the planet big, big problems.

1980 - 1989

20 Years After – NUCLEAR WAR/PLAUGES

Aliens – ALIENS

The Apple – THE RAPTURE

Das Arche Noah Prinzip (The Noah’s Ark Principle) – WEAPONIZING THE WEATHER

Bunker Palace Hôtel - CIVIL UNREST/WARFARE

Cherry 2000 – THE DISSOLUTION OF MARRIAGE/WOMEN/SEX/ROBOTS

The Day After – NUCLEAR WAR

The Dead Zone - NUCLEAR HOLOCAUST

Le Dernier Combat – UNKNOWN INCIDENT, RENDERS SOCIETY MUTE

Def-Con 4 – NUCLEAR WARFARE/WORLD WAR III

Cyborg – PLAGUE

Escape from New York - CRIME/HUMANS

Land of Doom – WARFARE

Leviathan - CREATURE CREATED BY DISEASED HUMANS FUSING/VIRUS

Mad Max 2 (The Road Warrior) - GLOBAL WAR/COLLAPSE OF CIVILIZATION

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome - GLOBAL WAR/COLLAPSE OF CIVILIZATION

Malevil – NUCLEAR WAR

The Martian Chronicles (TV miniseries) – NUCLEAR HOLOCAUST

Millennium - HUMANS DESTROY EARTH

Miracle Mile – WORLD EXPLODES

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind - HUMANS

Night of the Comet – METEOR

Omen III: The Final Conflict - ANTICHRIST

Proini peripolos (Morning Patrol) – CATASTROPHIC WORLD EVENT

The Quiet Earth – WORLD EXPLODES

The Seventh Sign – JUDGMENT DAY

The Terminator - ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

Testament - NUCLEAR WAR

Threads (TV series) – NUCLEAR WAR

Virus – BIOLOGICAL WARFARE

When the Wind Blows - NUCLEAR WAR

World War III - WWIII AKA NUCLEAR WAR

Next Up? The 90s! And it's not all Y2K like you'd think...

12 Monkeys

You'll likely be shocked to learn that films surrounding the Y2K phenomenon were scarce—only one (Last Night) managed to discuss the hysteria surrounding a world where everything shuts down because people were afraid computers couldn't count from 1999 to 2000. The environment comes into play heavily in the 90s, as the Greenhouse Effect and global warming take center stage. Growing concerns for the earth's habitability in the future loom large in the thoughts of everyone, from Al Gore to your grandmother. While we have all the makings of a varied outlook on the future of our planet that still involves aliens, satan, meteors, and nuclear war, the scenarios wherein humans destroy the earth through their lack of foresight rings heavily at the end of the millenium. Be it pollution, food shortage, or global warming, movies were now dissecting the role in which human consumption disrupts the natural order.

1990-1999

12 Monkeys – VIRUS

Alien 3 - ALIENS

Alien Resurrection - ALIENS

Armageddon – METEOR ALMOST HITS EARTH

The Arrival - ALIENS

Blue Gender (TV series) – INSECTOID HUMANS, VIA VIRUS

By Dawn's Early Light - WORLD WAR III

Dead or Alive – WORLD EXPLODES

Deep Impact – METEOR HITS EARTH

Delicatessen - WORLDWIDE FOOD SHORTAGE

Dogma – RELIGIOUS BREAKDOWN

End of Days - SATAN

The End of Evangelion - AN AMBIGUOUS GIANT BEING

Escape from L.A. – EARTHQUAKE IN LA/CRIME/HUMANS

The Handmaid's Tale – POLLUTION-INDUCED STERILIZATION

In the Mouth of Madness – MUTANT CREATURES

Invasion – VIRUS TURNS HUMANS INTO ALIENS

Last Night – Y2K APOCALYPSE/WORLD EXPLODES

The Matrix - CYBERSPACE

Night of the Living Dead (1990) – ZOMBIES

Neon City – SOLAR DISASTER

The Omega Code – ANTICHRIST

The Postman – UNSPECIFIED APOCALYPSE

The Rapture – WORLD EXPLODES/RAPTURE

Six String Samurai – NUCLEAR WAR

Solar Crisis – SOLAR FLARE

The Stand (TV Miniseries) - VIRUS

Tank Girl – COMET-INDUCED CLIMATE CHANGE

Terminator 2 – ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

Waterworld - ENVIRONMENTAL COLLAPSE

Without Warning (TV Movie) – METEOR

Next up? The Aughts!

ALT

In the early 2000s, everything was going great. The world was on an economic uptick, but more movies than ever were being made where the world met its end. 59 films, in fact! More than any other time in history. Most notable is the increase interest in zombies. Oh yes, the almighty undead have been around for ages, but the thought of a zombie apocalypse gripped tightly at the pop culture microcosm. They were everywhere! On TV, in movies—heck, they were even showing up en masse in random locations to dance, sometimes! The trend continues today, but was perhaps most notably so in the aughts.

2000 - 2009 showed us a huge variety of apocalyptic endings to the world, from the rise of viral pandemics (often including our fair zombie friends), nuclear explosions, general war, global warming, aliens and even dragons and a loss of intellect. Even Kirk Cameron got in on the action with his Christian film, Left Behind. The aughts saw the beginnings of a more philosophical discussion about the end of the world and what that may entail beyond just explosions and mayhem. What happens when the entire world goes blind? What about the effects of pollution on human sterilization? Even Disney gets in on the fun, serving up a thoughtful yet kid-friendly discussion of how humans are ruining their home in WALL-E. Times look grim through the lens of the world-ending scenarios of the 2000s.

2000-2009

2012 – THE MAYAN PROPHECY/A SERIES OF NATURAL DISASTERS

28 Days Later - ZOMBIES /THE RAGE VIRUS

28 Weeks Later - ZOMBIES /THE RAGE VIRUS

9 – ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

A.I. Artificial Intelligence – ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

Babylon A.D. – CORRUPTION AND WAR

Blindness – BLINDNESS EPIDEMIC

Carriers - VIRAL PANDEMIC

Children of Men - WORLDWIDE STERILIZATION VIA ENVIRONMENTAL CAUSES

The Core – NUCLEAR EXPLOSIONS

The Dark Hour – WAR

Dawn of the Dead – ZOMBIES

The Day After Tomorrow - GLOBAL WARMING/ENVIRONMENT

The Day the Earth Stood Still - ALIENS

The Day the World Ended (2001) – ALIENS

Doomsday - THE REAPER VIRUS

Dragon Head - UNKNOWN NATURAL DISASTER

Dreamcatcher - ALIENS

Earth 2100 - ENVIRONMENTAL: CLIMATE CHANGE, RESOURCE DEPLETION, AND OVERPOPULATION

Fail Safe (2000 Teleplay)– NUCLEAR HOLOCAUST, TECHNOLOGY/THE COLD WAR

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within - ALIENS

The Happening - PLANTS

Happy End (2009) - VIRUS, BOMBS, EARTHQUAKE

I Am Legend – LETHAL MEASELS CREATES VAMPIRES

Idiocracy - THE LOSS OF INTELLECT

Impact (2008) - ASTEROID/THE MOON

The Invasion – ALIENS

Knowing – WORLD EXPLODES VIA PROPECHIES/ALIENS

Land of the Dead - ZOMBIES

Left Behind - THE RAPTURE

Lost Souls - THE ANTICHRIST

Mercano the Martian– WORLD EXPLODES/ALIEN

Meteor - METEOR

Megiddo: The Omega Code 2 - BIBLICAL NATURAL DISASTERS COME TRUE

Night of the Living Dead (2006) – ZOMBIES

On the Beach – WORLD EXPLODES VIA NUCLEAR DESTRUCTION

Pandorum - OVERPOPULATION, ALIENS

Reign of Fire - DRAGONS

Resident Evil - ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, T-VIRUS/ZOMBIES

Resident Evil: Apocalypse - T-VIRUS/ZOMBIES

Resident Evil: Extinction - T-VIRUS/ZOMBIES

Returner - ALIENS

Right at Your Door - BOMBS EQUIPPED WITH BIOLOGICAL AGENTS

The Road – LOSS OF THE SUN/ENVIRONMENT

Save the Green Planet! – ALIENS/WORLD EXPLODES

Shaun of the Dead - ZOMBIES

Solar Attack - SOLAR FLARES

Southland Tales – WORLD EXPLODES/NUCLEAR WORLD WAR III

Supervolcano - VOLCANO

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines - NUCLEAR ATTACKS/JUDGMENT DAY

Terminator: Salvation ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

The Time Machine - DESTRUCTION OF THE MOON

Titan A.E. - ALIENS

Tooth and Nail - OVERUSE OF NATURAL RESOURCES, LEADS TO COLLAPSE OF CIVILIZATION

WALL-E – ENVIRONMENTAL BREAKDOWN

War of the Worlds - ALIENS

Watchmen - WAR

Time of the Wolf (2003) – AN UNKNOWN DISASTER

Zombieland - ZOMBIES

Next Up, 2010 to NOW!

melancholia

Since the uptick in interest regarding the world's potential demise over the past two years (where we've seen two end of days scenarios within the same time period), everyone has gotten on board with their own apocalyptic vision of earth, and how the human condition can afford (or not afford) one with the capacity to deal with (or not) the ultimate end. Whole TV series (Revolution, Falling Skies) are being created with the sole purpose of dissecting a world post-apocalypse.

We see more zombies, more aliens, and also a lot more films with religious connotations to them—including The Book of Eli and Legion. Is the world pissing off a higher power? Could the Mayans have been right all along? No, probably not, but if the past two years are any indication, the rest of the teens will see a lot more of this. And of course a few zombies for good measure!

2010-Present

12 Disasters of Christmas – THE MAYAN PROPHECY/JUDGEMENT DAY

4:44 Last Day on Earth – WORLD EXPLODES FOR UNKNOWN, POSSIBLY ENVIRONMENTAL REASONS

Arctic Blast - SECOND ICE AGE

Battle: Los Angeles – ALIENS

The Book of Eli – NUCLEAR FALLOUT

Cabin in the Woods – ANGRY GODS

The Darkest Hour - ALIENS

Daybreakers - VAMPIRES

The Divide - NUCLEAR WAR

Falling Skies (TV Series) - ALIENS

Hell (2011) – SOLAR FLARES/ENVIRONMENT

Kaboom – WORLD EXPLODES/NUCLEAR RED BUTTON

The Last Man on Earth (2011) – ALIENS/MISOGNY

Legion - ANGRY GOD

Maximum Shame - UNKNOWN

Melancholia – WORLD EXPLODES

Resident Evil: Afterlife – T-VIRUS/ZOMBIES

Resident Evil: Retribution – T-VIRUS/ZOMBIES

Revolution (TV Series) - LOSS OF ELECTRICITY

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World – METEOR

Skyline – ALIENS

Stake Land – VAMPIRE PANDEMIC

Vanishing on 7th Street – SHADOWS SWALLOW THE EARTH

The Walking Dead (TV Series) - ZOMBIES

So how does the entertainment industry feel like the world is going to end? Let's break it down for you. Out of 191 movies and television shows that discuss the way in which the world will end, the majority feel that the way our world will go out is with a bang...a big, giant, life-ending nuclear bang, of course. 30 percent of the films made dealing with a world that has ended/will end/is ending believe that our time will come thanks to the terrible capacity of nuclear/atomic bombs. The second most popular theory generally involves some sort of environmental breakdown, and accounts for 20 percent of the movies made. In third place was the oh-so-ambiguous Other category, which includes things like shadows swallowing the earth whole, a nasty case of Dragon takeover, and The Blob.

Nuclear War: 30%

Environmental: 20%

Other: 17%

Aliens: 12%

Zombies: 8%

Humans: 5%

Religion/The Rapture/Judgment Day: 5%

Artificial Intelligence/Robots: 3%

Phew! That was a lot of information all at once, huh? Looking for it all in a bit more of a digestible format? Check out this fun video featuring all sorts of massive earth destruction (world-ending and otherwise) for a blippy crash course in apocalypses.

What do you think the chances are the world will end on December 21st, 2012? Did we miss any of your favorites? Let us know in the comments!

[Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures (2), Universal Pictures, Embassy Pictures, American International Pictures, Magnolia Pictures, Walt Disney Pictures]

Follow Alicia on Twitter @alicialutes

More:

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